By Zach Duncan
VERNON – There wasn’t one play that broke open Bushland’s Region I-3A Division I area round matchup against Whitesboro.
Instead, it was a fourth-down conversion here. And a defensive three-and-out against a dangerous Bearcat offense there. Next thing you knew, fifth-ranked Bushland entered halftime leading by 24 points and cruised to a 60-19 victory over the Bearcats on Thursday night on Leo Brittain Field at Lions Stadium.
The Falcons (11-1) await Friday’s winner between Paradise and Dalhart in the regional semifinals, while the Bearcats finish the season at 6-6. Bushland scored on eight of 10 drives as Dawson Jaco threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns, while Easton Fuentes rushed for three-first half scores.
As good as the Falcons’ offense was – it reached 60 points for the third time this season and gained 554 total yards – Bushland’s defense may have been more impressive.
“Our defense has gotten so much better every week,” Jaco said. “They get turnovers, defensive touchdowns, they give us a chance to rest on offense. They did a great job keeping a really good offense out of the end zone.”
Bushland’s defense came up with a touchdown when Jaxon Fetsch scored on a 36-yard fumble return in the fourth quarter, but the tone was sent long before that.
Whitesboro scored on its first drive when Mason Scarbrough got loose for a 62-yard touchdown catch, but the Bearcats didn’t score again until late in the third quarter after Bushland was leading 44-7. Quarterback Clay Hermes only completed 14-of-37 passes and was sacked three times.
“Clay was running for his life some of the time. That d-line was unbelievable, they had a great rush,” Whitesboro coach Cody Fagan said. “Credit to those guys, they do a great job and they’re going to play football for a long time.”
Bushland led 31-7 at half as the first three drives ended with short Fuentes touchdown runs. Jaco connected with Tanner Adams for a 38-yard score, and the Falcons ended the second quarter with Ysidro Carroll’s 24-yard field goal.
Kade Gavina led all receivers with 11 catches for 115 yards, including a 34-yard TD catch on Bushland’s first drive of the second half. Even after the Falcons’ defense surrendered a touchdown late in the third quarter, Jenner King returned the bad snap on the ensuing PAT for two points.
Even the backups got into the scoring as quarterback Quaid Ferris scored from 1 yard out with 2:30 remaining after AJ Marquez carried the Falcons down the field.
Adams had eight catches for 100 yards, while Max Rodriguez added a 7-yard TD run and four different Falcons rushed for at least 46 yards (led by Slade Perry’s 74). That type of spread-out production bodes well for the future.
“It’s fun when you have that many weapons you can throw to, that many guys who can carry the ball,” Bushland coach Josh Reynolds said. “Anytime that’s happening, it’s because your o-line is playing well. We’ve got to be able to run the ball in November and December.”
Bushland has now reached the regional semifinal round for the fourth time in five seasons, but the Falcons haven’t made it to the state quarterfinals since 2017 when they were a 4A program.
Jaco, who has thrown 36 touchdown passes during his senior season, knows the Falcons must keep improving because it’ll only get harder from here on out.
“We accomplished our goal today and got the win so we can play Thanksgiving football, which everyone dreams of,” Jaco said. “It’s so much fun.”
In the other Class 3A Division I clash on Thursday, the Brock Eagles ended Muleshoe’s season in a 76-13 victory. Muleshoe ends a solid year at 9-3.